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Friday 26th May 2017

I had high hopes for Yasmani Grandal this year, so when I purchased him for the fair (or so I thought) price of $12 at the Tout Wars Mixed Auction, I was pleased. Despite battling various injuries throughout his young career, Grandal was coming off back-to-back 15-plus home run seasons, and his consistently high walk rates gave him added value in Tout, which uses OBP instead of AVG. I figured that a career year was in store for Grandal, who was entering his age-27 season. Well, I figured wrong. We're at the season's one-third mark and Grandal has managed just four home runs, 15 RBI, eight runs scored, and perhaps more importantly, a mediocre .296 OBP. Sure, there's still plenty of time for him to turn things around, but I'm losing patience with this guy. I might even be willing to deal him for a backstop with a lower ceiling just to get him off my roster. But whenever I begin to regret the Grandal pick, I keep reminding myself that 2016 has been a disappointing year for catchers in general, with far more fantasy disappointments (Russell Martin, Derek Norris, Yan Gomes, Stephen Vogt) than solid fantasy producers. In other words, most of my league mates are dealing with the same frustration. Which players are the exceptions? It wasn't easy to come up with five catchers who have at least earned their draft day price tag, let alone reward their owners with a profit, but let's meet the members of this distinguished group.

Jonathan Lucroy ($17) - Health was the biggest question mark surrounding Lucroy heading into this season, as he was coming off a 2015 campaign in which he was limited to 103 games due to injury. But health has not been an issue at all so far, and the Brewers catcher is delivering elite-level numbers, batting .304 with nine homers, 28 RBI, 28 runs scored and a .364 OBP through 51 games. Lucroy is earning every bit of his $17 price, which did not reflect any health risk discount.

Welington Castillo ($8) - Castillo's 17 home runs in 80 games following his trade to the Diamondbacks last season raised the possibility that a 25-homer campaign could be in store for 2016. I wasn't buying it considering his career track record, and at this point, it's looking like 20 home runs is a more realistic goal. After leaving the yard six times in April, he's recorded just one home run since. But barring a massive power outage, the 29-year-old should deliver at least eight bucks in value.

Francisco Cervelli ($6) - Power has never been a part of Cervelli's game, and he has yet to homer through 46 games this season. But with 21 RBI, 19 runs scored and a .366 OBP, the Pirates backstop is quietly establishing himself as a quality top-15 fantasy catcher. In a 15-team mixed league, this means that Cervelli is a viable #1 catcher, and a viable #1 catcher for six bucks sounds pretty good to me.

J.T. Realmuto ($5) - Realmuto has followed up a promising rookie season with a steady sophomore campaign, highlighted by a .294 batting average through 50 games. The two homers are a bit disappointing but Realmuto is one of the few catchers who actually steals bases, and he's on pace for nine swipes this season. At 25 years of age, he still has plenty of time to improve across the board. Don't be surprised if his $5 price looks like a bargain come September.

Wilson Ramos ($3) - After drafting Ramos two years in a row in Tout only to be let down, I decided that enough was enough, so when the bidding stalled at three bucks, I resisted the urge to jump in. Of course, the year I finally cut ties with the Nationals catcher is the year that he finally breaks out. Entering Saturday, Ramos is hitting .342 with seven home runs and 29 RBI. Then again, Ramos' .357 BABIP suggests that his current batting average is bound to drop considerably. And his lofty RBI total has been aided by an unsustainable .400 batting average (18-for-45) with runners in scoring position.

But as much as I try to dismiss Ramos' red-hot start to 2016, I must admit that I messed up by not sticking with him for another year.

Any takers for Yasmani Grandal?

Anyone?

When drafting fantasy baseball squads, I pay a lot of attention to age. Maybe too much, but whether it is due to health issues or concerns over a potential decline in production, older players tend to be riskier investments. The problem is every year at least a handful of the guys purposely avoided prove me wrong and force me to question core draft day strategies. This season is no exception. So, who fits this description for 2016? Note that all of these players are at least 35-years old. Also note that I do not own any of these players.

David Ortiz - Retire? Really? Big Papi headlines this group, and for good reason. As of Saturday, Ortiz leads the Majors in both RBI (45) and OPS (1.126). And then there's the 12 homers through 43 games. In the Tout Wars Mixed Auction league, the 40-year-old was purchased for the modest price of $17. Not surprisingly, his owner, Bret Sayre, currently resides in first place.

Ben Zobrist - The Cubs signed Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million contract over the winter and has been well worth the price tag so far, boasting a .350/.454/.525 slash line with six homers, 31 RBI and 35 runs scored through 44 games. Zobrist's power days were thought to be long gone, but the 35-year-old is currently on pace to post his first 20-plus home run campaign since 2012. Oh, and Bret Sayre owns him too.

Rich Hill - I honestly thought little of Hill's impressive four starts to close out the 2015 season. Perhaps that was a mistake. I'm still skeptical as this is a pitcher who has not enjoyed an extended period of success in a starting role since 2007. On the other hand, there comes a time in every season when a hot start is no longer just a hot start. We're approaching that time, as the 36-year-old southpaw holds a 7-3 record to go along with a 2.18 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 10.1 K/9 rate through ten starts.

John Lackey - Five bucks was all it took to win Lackey's services in Mixed Auction Tout Wars this spring, and I found this a bit strange considering that the 37-year-old righty was coming off an exceptional 2015 campaign. But I guess my league mates were not too eager to own him, and he was nowhere near my target list. Well, all Lackey has done through nine starts is register a 3.38 ERA and 0.95 WHIP, good for fourth-best in the NL.

Santiago Casilla - Can this guy ever get any respect? Heading into this season, Casilla was largely viewed as a low-end #2/high-end #3 closer in mixed leagues despite notching 38 saves in 2015 while recording a sub-3.00 ERA. Crazy, right? And the worst part is for some reason, I bought into the consensus opinion, believing that the 35-year-old was bound to crash sooner or later. Apparently not, as we're at the one-third mark of the season and Casilla sports career-best numbers in almost every category. Go figure.

Carlos Beltran - OK, I lied about not owning any of these players, because I own Beltran in one league. OK, I own him in two leagues, including Tout Wars, where I shelled out two whole dollars to draft the former All-Star. As it turns out, Beltran leads my team in both home runs and RBI. I'm not naive, there's a good chance that I have already benefited from the best part of Beltran's season, and maybe a DL stint is right around the corner.

Or maybe not.

Maybe it's because I didn't want to drop any of my current players. Maybe it's because of the Tout Wars rule requiring all players added via FAAB must be in active lineups for at least one week. But unlike in previous years, I really haven't been a frequent participant in FAAB bidding so far this season in the Mixed Auction Tout Wars league. In fact, through six FAAB periods, I've made only four purchases, tied for the fewest in the 15-team league. Am I letting opportunity after opportunity slip away? Honestly, when reviewing the players acquired through FAAB so far, I'm not overly impressed. For the most part, that is. Here are six exceptions. All of these guys could turn out to be among the most profitable buys of 2016. But just to be clear, I still do not regret passing on them.

Chris Tillman ($16 by Cory Schwartz on 4/4)

Through eight starts this season, Tillman sports a 2.58 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 9.3 K/9 rate, proving that his disappointing 2015 campaign was the outlier. The fact that the 28-year-old righty opened the season on the Tout Wars waiver wire goes to show that there were many doubters, and I was one of them. Being that starting pitching has turned out to be the strength of my team, Tillman's resurgence doesn't bother me too much. But the takeaway message here is that there is reward potential for fantasy owners willing to look beyond one poor season.

Drew Pomeranz ($24 by Joe Pisapia on 4/4)

Pomeranz's big league career got off to a shaky start, but maybe all he needed was a move away from Coors Field. Pitching mostly out of the bullpen for the A's from 2014-2015, the former top prospect posted a combined 3.08 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. And he's thriving as a starter for the Padres this season, boasting a 1.80 ERA and 1.08 WHIP through seven outings to go along with 51 strikeouts in 40 innings. There is little reason to doubt Pomeranz's ability to remain a viable mid-rotation mixed league starter from here on out.

Melvin Upton Jr. ($81 by Cory Schwartz on 4/18)

Remember him? Well, you might not recognize the first name, but I'm sure you can figure this out. The funny thing (or maybe not so funny for Justin Upton owners) is that the elder Upton, after disappearing from the fantasy radar for several years, is the more valuable fantasy commodity right now. Through 37 games, he's on pace to finish the season with 18 homers and 26 steals. Perhaps it is crazy to expect those totals, but even a 15/20 year would qualify as a pleasant surprise.

 Aledmys Diaz ($94 by Al Melchior on 4/18)

Hitting .387 with six homers, 19 RBI and 25 runs scored through 33 games this season, Diaz has taken full advantage of the playing time opportunity created by the injury to Jhonny Peralta. The sample size is small, but Diaz figures to remain a mixed league asset at least until Peralta returns. And even after Peralta comes back, reports suggest that the Cardinals will look for ways to keep Diaz's bat in the lineup.

Jeanmar Gomez ($133 by Gene McCaffrey on 4/11)

Meet Jeanmar Gomez, your major league saves leader. What? The Phillies, at 21-15, have far exceeded expectations, and the contributions of Gomez, who has saved 14 games in 15 chances while registering a 2.49 ERA, cannot be overlooked. Philadelphia's closer situation was a complete mystery entering the season, but thanks to the 28-year-old righty, it is a mystery no more. Now listen, I'm not saying that Gomez is guaranteed to hold onto the job through the end of the year. Prior to this season, he had recorded only one save in his entire career, and his big league numbers, which include a 4.08 ERA and 1.40 WHIP through six-plus seasons, can best be described as mediocre. What I am saying, however, is that saves can be found on the waiver wire throughout the season, even in deeper leagues. You just have to be aggressive, and a little lucky.

Travis Shaw ($149 by Scott Pianowski on 4/4)

Pablo Sandoval who? As if Boston's decision to sign Sandoval to a lucrative five-year contract didn't look bad enough following his underwhelming first season in Beantown, Sandoval's 2016 campaign ended after only three games due to a torn labrum in his shoulder. And this ensures that Shaw will be Boston's starting third baseman through the end of the season, although we sort of knew that already after Shaw beat out Sandoval for the job this spring. Batting .328 with five home runs and 25 RBI through 36 games, the 26-year-old has picked up right where he left off last season, when he posted a .274-13-36 line in just 226 at-bats.

Considering the continued struggles of Pedro Alvarez, Shaw would surely look nice in my starting corner infield slot.

OK, maybe I do regret passing on him.

Three seasons, three middle of the pack finishes. No, I haven't had much success since I began competing in NFBC Draft Champions leagues, a 15-team mixed format with a 50-round slow draft and no free agent pickups allowed. Since I consider the draft to be my strength as a fantasy owner, these consistently mediocre finishes are puzzling. There have been a few early-round busts over the years, but I always seem to make several strong late-round picks, and one would think that the late rounds are the most important rounds in this format.

But my fortunes might be changing this year, as I've resided in either first, second, or third place for almost the entire season. There weren't any major early-round busts this time, and I haven't lost my knack for finding late-round value. OK, enough about me. Well, sort of. This got me thinking about the best late-round picks from the standpoint of performance relative to round value. Here are my choices for the top five late-round hitters selected in NFBC Draft Champions League #3719, all drafted after Round 30.

Melvin Upton Jr. (Round 34, Pick 5) - When I took a chance on Upton as my eighth outfielder, I never really expected to start him barring multiple injuries to my other fly-chasers. But through 43 games, the player formerly known as B.J. has already tallied six homers and seven steals to go along with a respectable .266 batting average. A career .245 hitter, Upton is due for regression in that department, but the power and speed have always been a part of his game, and he seems to be revitalized in his first full season as a Padre. Upton made his first appearance in my starting lineup last week, and I wouldn't be surprised if he remains there for quite awhile, maybe even the rest of the season.

Travis Shaw (Round 35, Pick 15) - I devoted some space to Shaw in last week's column, so there isn't a lot more to say about this guy. A batting line of .310-6-29 through 42 games pretty much says it all.

Aledmys Diaz (Round 45, Pick 14) - Another player who I discussed last week, Diaz boasts a gaudy .373-6-23 stat line in 40 games this season. The 25-year-old shortstop might not see regular playing time once Jhonny Peralta returns from the DL next month, but logic says that the Cardinals will do their best to give Diaz as many at-bats as possible. Fantasy owners shouldn't be so quick to trade him now for a less than satisfactory return.

Jordy Mercer (Round 41, Pick 3) - Mercer has never quite lived up to expectations, but the 29-year-old is quietly putting together a quality season in 2016, highlighted by a career-best .298 batting average and .388 OBP. He will need to recapture the power stroke that produced 12 home runs back in 2014 to become a fantasy factor in standard 12-team mixed leagues. But as a starting MI in deeper formats, he's fine.

Brandon Drury (Round 42, Pick 5) - Drury's impressive offensive performance combined with his ability to play multiple positions has earned him everyday at-bats, and he's certainly making the most of the opportunity, hitting .309 with seven homers through 38 games. However, his 25-to-5 K/BB ratio suggests that a batting average correction could be on the horizon. Then again, the 23-year-old did post better plate discipline numbers in the Minors, so maybe the batting average correction will not be too drastic. The Diamondbacks are loaded with options at several positions, so Drury will always be under pressure to produce at the risk of losing at-bats.

And as the owner who drafted Drury in the 42nd round, this worries me. A lot.

Ever since I started playing fantasy baseball and spending way too many hours reading expert commentary, the terms "first half player" and "second half player" have been a constant part of the vernacular. Coincidence or not, there was always a group of players who repeatedly excelled at certain times of the season while repeatedly struggling at other times. Adam LaRoche and Mark Teixeira are two players that come to mind who routinely got off to slow starts before heating up during the summer months. Over the years, I began to buy into this theory. Maybe it wasn't a coincidence. Maybe there were some players who simply needed a certain number of at-bats to get into a groove.

I could have taken this one step further by putting stock into monthly splits, but I figured it would be taking things too far. Still, the temptation to at least glance at these splits is often too strong to ignore. So, as we begin the month of May, let's take a look at last season's May leaders in the five standard hitting categories. How did they fare the rest of the way? How are they faring so far this season? Could they possibly enjoy an equally successful month of May in 2016? Note that I'm using Hits instead of AVG.

HITS

Jason Kipnis (51) - After batting .429 with four homers and 17 RBI last May, Kipnis failed to hit more than two home runs or record more than eight RBI in any of the season's final four months. Although he finished the year with a stellar .303 batting average to go along with 86 runs scored, the power and speed production (9 HR, 12 SB) left a lot to be desired. This season could be a different story for the Indians second baseman, as his three homers and three steals through 20 games has him on pace for his first career 20/20 campaign.

HOME RUNS

Bryce Harper (13) - Who else but the NL MVP? The month of May turned out to be Harper's most productive month overall, as he batted .360 with 13 homers and 28 RBI. The rest of his season was pretty good too, and Bryce has been outstanding so far this year. Don't be surprised if he's the clear-cut No. 1 overall pick in drafts next spring.

RBI

Ryan Braun/Prince Fielder/Bryce Harper (28) - In addition to Harper, Braun and Fielder both made their fantasy owners smile last May, and both entered the season with legitimate injury concerns. By season's end, Braun was the only player in baseball with at least 25 homers and 24 steals. Despite his fine 2015 performance, the injury risk factor once again lowered Braun's draft day price this year, and owners who were willing to take a chance on him are so far feeling good about their decision. Through 21 games, Milwaukee's right fielder is batting .338 with five homers, 17 RBI and two swipes. As for Fielder, after going .305-23-98 last season, he's off to a so-so start this year, batting a meager .193 with a modest two home runs but a solid 16 RBI. Prince has been an ultra-consistent run producer when healthy, so fantasy owners should be pleased about their investment, especially since his DH-only status likely shaved a few bucks off his price tag.

RUNS

Jason Kipnis (30) - See above, though I must add that Kipnis has never disappointed in the runs department, and I don't expect him to disappoint this year.

STOLEN BASES

Dee Gordon (12) - Well, I guess Gordon won't be stealing 12 bases this May. In fact, he won't be stealing any bases. News of his 80-game suspension really came out of nowhere, and it's obviously a tough break for his fantasy owners. But this is the downside of building your squad around a dominant speedster. Those who spent a top-30 pick on Gordon penciled him in for 50-plus steals and likely did not draft enough 20-plus SB guys. I prefer to spread the risk. The good news is that Gordon will be back, and with two-plus months to make up ground, he could still finish the season with 25-30 steals.

But that's just an estimate. I'll need to check his August, September and October splits from last year to give you an exact number.

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